What happened to the big, dumb action film?
I don't mean the comic book variety, where everyone gets their own superpowers and deformities and then the freaks fight. I don't mean wire-fu, where people do spin kicks by jumping off of palm tree branches. I don't mean the buddy comedy, where two mismatched heroes go through many bad guys to rescue the damsel. I mean the straightforward, hardnosed action film, where something bad is going to happen if the hero doesn't do something - now.
Cellular is much in that tradition. There's little "deep meaning" here, no philosophical statements and certainly no Oscar-worthy moments. But what it does have is adrenaline, thrills and enough humor to carry the slower set-up scenes.
Ryan has just left the Santa Monica Pier when he gets a strange call from a woman (Kim Basinger), claiming she's been kidnapped. Now, he must get help - or help her himself - all the while making sure to stay in reception range.
There are enough moments of connection in the script to keep anyone with a cell phone amused, even when the plot twists get a bit unrealistic. For instance, while driving around Los Angeles, Ryan pulls a quick 180 as he realizes that he's about to drive into a tunnel, a move that would surely drop the call. In another sequence, the battery starts to run out, and he needs to come up with a charger. Anyone who has had calls dropped for no apparent reason or been stung by the inconvenient "convenience" of a cell phone knows about the instrument's temperamental nature.
The cinematography and direction is tremendous throughout, keeping the pace lively and the shots energetic, yet not falling into the MTV-style editing pattern or making the viewer seasick from constant motion. Director David Ellis has enough confidence in the script to know that it's not his job to make the story "exciting" as much as "interesting." There's a small difference there, but it can be the difference between a quality project and a nauseating one.
The performance range from solid (Chris Evans is a serviceable hero as Ryan, while Jason Statham has exactly one look the entire film - but it's a convincing, menacing one) to superb; Basinger is wonderful as the truly desperate housewife Jessica, while William H. Macy makes a lot out of a supporting role as a burnt-out cop, especially in a very funny scene that sees him wearing a mineral facial mask. Again, the roles are not necessarily challenging, but the actors do enough to keep the story going.
The only negatives in the film come in the form of plot holes; this is a film that requires a healthy ability to suspend disbelief. At times, Cellular will make viewers bang their heads on the wall if they look for perfect logic.
The 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer of Cellular looks fantastic. Especially noteworthy is the black levels - so much of Basinger's screen time comes in a dark attic, and the detail available even in that situation is commendable. The colors are really well represented, as well; colorful southern California looks great as Ryan drives around.
The 5.1 Dolby Digital track is very active without ever swallowing the dialogue, no mean feat in an action film. The surround speakers get to show off in some key scenes (and in some funny moments, such as the film's biggest explosion). A 2.0 track is also provided.
The advertised commentary track is with director David Ellis, story creator Larry Cohen and Chris Morgan, but instead it is primarily with Ellis, his daughter Tawny ("associate producer," a title that David Mamet once wrote in State and Main is "what you give to your secretary instead of a raise") and his Annie (assistant stunt coordinator). Cohen and Morgan, along with some other staff members, are called on their phone (get it? GET IT!) for additional information. The info is not scene specific and pretty clearly edited in later. Also, the cell phone volume is lower, sometimes to the point of not being able to understand the people on the other end of the line. Meanwhile, the track itself reveals precious little information, Annie and Tawny have nearly nothing to say, and Ellis actually sounds out of his league.
A handful of deleted and alternate scenes make the disc as well, along with commentary for each scene. Most of the cut footage was shaved off of scenes in the film, such as the extended introduction to Ryan and the extra padding in act three. All of the cuts seem to be for the better, especially leaving out a schmaltzy denouement for Ryan.
In addition, this (fairly loaded, really) release features three documentaries. Dialing Up Cellular is a fairly by-the-numbers look at production, with few discoveries and a lot of back-slapping. Calling Out is a slightly more interesting, if tangential, discussion about societies love affair with the cell phone and our obsession with "staying in touch." Finally, Code of Silence: Inside the Rampart Scandal is assorted interviews and news clips about the Los Angeles police scandal that the film mimics in some ways (it comes with a warning screen that the documentary "contains information that may reveal important story elements about Cellular"). All three are competently done, but not anything worthy of rewatching.
A theatrical trailer and DVD-Rom "script-to-screen" feature rounds out the extras list.
This is not a classic. This will not be remembered for its brilliance - for many, it won't even be remembered. But Cellular, for 94 minutes, grabs a hold of the viewer and doesn't let go. It's one of the more entertaining mindless action films of recent memory, and definitely worth watching for anyone who misses the genre.